Saturday sees the Strigiformes vs Serinus Canaria Domestica derby. Will it be Ozzie The Owl or Captain Canary who takes home the chicks? Rich chatted to Wednesday fan, writer and friend of the LYBP, Terry Hibberd, to get the lowdown
Rich: So, last time you spoke to us everyone was full of early season optimism in the warm sunshine. We’d both won our first game and with a spring in our step we were looking forward to the season. We subsequently shared a point in a fairly unmemorable goalless game. But I’m guessing that the denizens of S6 are happier with what’s transpired since than those of NR1?
Terry: Being in the top six isn't a bad thing, although at times performances haven't been glorious. But.. We've been winning.. Until last week... When we lost twice. Some say the luck has run out but I prefer to see things as a small blip. I'm certainly happy we're ensconced in the top six already because if not.. The dissenters would be VERY noisy.
Rich: There are always dissenters. They're always noisy. We have some of the finest dissenters in football at Norwich. A lot of that dissent has been aimed towards our manager. How about you, is Carlos Carvalhal coming in for criticism from some and what is causing the dissension from the dissenters? From the outside, he seems to be doing a good job.
Terry: There are a few grumblings from people who aren’t happy with the football on show. With the investment in the playing staff on top of what we had, people want more. The football hasn’t been as fluid as last season, but results have been better overall as things stand. It’s that fine balancing act between results and performance, we’re getting the results, but according to some, not the performance. THAT is where the grumbling originates.
Rich: As you mention, you've had some investment from your owner since he took over in 2015. A lot of our fans would like to see a change of owner as Delia is merely rich, not rich rich, and an ensuing injection of cash. (though we’ve spunked our Premier League money to no real effect so I don’t know if it would make any difference). So would *ahem* a Chansiri be a fine thing?
Terry: He’s been fantastic since he came in. Investment has been across the board, on the stadium, infrastructure, staff, the academy, everything really. For someone who admitted he wasn’t a ‘football man’ initially, he’s bought into our club, the supporters and put the money where his mouth is. He meets openly with a steering group made up of a wide cross-section of supporters each quarter and requests criticism as he wants to make things better. It’s not just about getting a pat on the back for the good things. He’s an ambitious character, of good standing in the business world, and he wants success. BUT he wants to do it in a manner which sustains things longer-term, within the rules and without risking sanctions from Financial Fair Play. We’ve had no money really to speak of for so long, and Mr Chansiri is a real breath of fresh air.
Rich: That's good, can be a disaster if a new regime tries to change things too quickly. So he's definitely towards the Sheikh Mansoor end of the scale and not the Vincent Tan end. Dr Tony at Villa is showing signs of doing things all wrong too. Which, I have to say, I'm quite enjoying.
That investment's all well and good, but can you stop stockpiling strikers please? It’s unfair on the rest of us. Despite that you’ve not been particularly free-scoring, with 42 netted to our 59. ‘How on earth are you behind us in the table then?’ you may ask. Well, craftily, you’ve remembered about the defending bit of football, only conceding 33 to our whopping 48. Fernando Forestieri is your leading scorer. He refused to play in the game at Carrow Road, hopefully it was nothing against us. I assume that the situation has resolved itself and he’s back nestled in the loving bosom of the fans again now?
Terry: He seems to be one of the more bizarre club owners that’s for sure does Mr Tony, with his ‘fractions’ to try and explain things on Twitter!!
Yes, the whole Forestieri thing is gone. Whatever it was, is sorted and he’s getting back to what we saw last season. Players with as much skill as he has don’t usually have a reputation to be work-horses too, but he definitely does. On his day, there is no doubt in my mind he is one of the best we’ve had in well over 15 years. We have been frugal in front of goal, and that’s the biggest change from last season. But defensively, we’ve been decent for the past few years, the club clean sheet record is within sight for the third season in a row. If we get into gear in an attacking sense, we’ll go up. I have NO doubt about that.
Rich: Indeed and with Forestieri, Hooper, Fletcher & Rhodes you have enough to get you a goal or two when you need them.
Now, Wednesday are a club I always think should be in the Premier League, and it’s been a while now. Having experienced Norwich both winning and losing in the playoff final, I know which I prefer. Can you repeat last year’s feat by getting to Wembley, then go one better by winning in the final?
Terry: Unfortunately there’s no divine right to top flight football despite the image of being a ‘big club’. I think we can go one better, there are things we have learned from last season. We’ve scrapped to results more this season in games which we would have definitely lost last year. Although we’ve lost to Brighton, Reading and Leeds (all narrowly) we’ve done the double over Huddersfield and beaten Newcastle away, both no mean feats. I’d love us to romp all the way into the Premier League, but I’d just as willingly accept 1-0 win’s all the way too. We can do it, we are capable. Definitely.
Rich: Barry Bannon is a player I've always liked. He was at the heart of everything for you in the game at Carrow Road. A cracking player. Has he been as influential in midfield all season or has he shared the limelight in the middle of the park?
Terry: He's not really had the limelight this season, he's been highlighted a little more for being 'off-form' but he's still very talented and a vital part of the squad. But Sam Hutchinson has probably been the fulcrum, he drives the team forward, has the heart of a lion. He's a real fans’ player. An 100%er if ever there was one, and since stepping out of central defence where he played against you at Carrow Road back into midfield he's been a colossus really.
Rich: Every fan loves a player like that don't they? The one who tries as hard as we would if we got to pull on the shirt? Great stuff.
Ok. So back to the play-off picture. We’re trying to play catch up, if we win on Saturday we’ll only be three points behind you. But our away form is utter garbage (it includes recent abject losses to Rotherham & Burton, for example) so I fully expect the gap to be 9 points come Saturday evening. Also, we’ve been so inconsistent I can’t see us maintaining a charge for the play-offs anyway. Fulham smell a bit more like the team that comes in late if it happens at all this season. If one of us does, let’s hope it’s at Leeds’ expense and not yours. So that being said, I anticipate a straightforward home win on Saturday. 2-0 with no alarms and no surprises.
We’re doing this on Ash Wednesday. Is that an omen? For the purposes of this preview I’m saying it is. Could be a good one for you, i.e. you’re on fire. Or bad, i.e. you’re burnt out. Which is it? That’s a roundabout way of saying can I have a score prediction for Saturday please?
Terry: Haha. I like that. I'm almost always an optimistic Wednesday fan, even in more auspicious times... So I can't think beyond us picking up the points.. Also, under our manager we've never lost more than 2 on the spin I think. As mentioned earlier, we're not free-scoring this season but I think you'll score. And If he's fit (I haven't looked), Jerome to score for you, and it won't go down well as he's one we love to hate after his time as a Brum player.
So I'll go... 2-1 Wednesday.
Terry Hibberd is a Sheffield Wednesday fan, writer and owner of Owlsonline.com. You can follow him at @hoylandowl and @owlsonline, and read his feature interviews in the official Sheffield Wednesday match day programme and his Off The Post Blog on ITV